Sand In My Shoes

Sand in my shoes. That’s an old phrase used by (old) Floridians. In a sentence it would sound like this: “I’ve been gone from Florida for years now, but I guess I still have sand in my shoes.” It’s a loving way of saying that living in this beautiful, ravished, tacky, diverse, corrupt and surprising state leaves something indelible in one’s soul.

I have now lived outside of Florida (39 years) more than I ever lived in the state (30 years). But I grew up here from age nine until age forty-two (interrupted only by three years in Illinois for seminary). I swam and sailed in her ocean, gulf, and lakes; rode horses through her tangled scrub; and feasted on her succulent citrus. I also married my high school sweetheart, graduated from the major state university (the University of Florida!), was called to the priesthood, and served five congregations before being elected Bishop of Iowa and moving to the Midwest.

I don’t think I would ever want to move back here to live permanently. I actually fell in love with the state of Iowa and her people, enough so to plead guilty to the charge of insanity by choosing to retire there rather than Florida when I left my post on the staff of our Church Center in New York in 2009.

But it is painful to return to my self-designated “home state” of Florida and see what greed and over-development, environmental insensitivity and (I said it before) corruption have done to this land of my formation. Read Miami Herald columnist Carl Hiaasen for more on this.

Yet, when I drive or fly back into the sunshine state and see her swaying palms and their luscious intermingling with live oaks (complete with Spanish moss) and azaleas, stand beside the pounding surf, and breathe in the moist tropical breezes, I know that — for better or for worse — I am “home.”  Because, I guess,

I have sand in my shoes.

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